All posts by Harvey Jones

Are Premier League passions on the wane? Not at Huddersfield

The Premier League has been witness to some of the greatest footballing moments in recent decades years.

Martin Tyler’s Aguero goal-gasm, Cantona’s flying kung-fu kick, and who could forget ‘Collymore closing in’ to seal a 4-3 win for Liverpool over Newcastle in 1996?

Accompanying these moments, hand-in-hand, are the supporters. Grounds such as Anfield and Old Trafford have generated the noise of footballing symphonies over the years with the fans at the forefront. The ever-present 12th man, behind their team ’til the end.

In recent years, however, certain fans have fallen under scrutiny for their lack of noise, most recently United’s from manager Jose Mourinho himself. With the great success that clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have generated, over time it almost feels as though the “12th man” has been fading.

Fan ‘gentrification’ and football tourism at these great English clubs have led to many modern stadia turning into soulless bowls. It feels as though the once electric, deafening atmospheres across the country may actually be seeping away, replaced by increased corporate hospitality and designated ‘singing areas’ (which never used to be needed).

Has the Premier League begun to lose what made it so special in the late 90s?

It certainly may feel that way if you ever have the chance to watch a game at one of its larger grounds. But the heart of everything that’s been so great about English supporters over the years can still be found.

Is there hope for the real football fans?

Recently, I travelled up to Huddersfield for their Premier League clash with fellow relegation strugglers, Crystal Palace. Two teams that have been new to the league over the last five years, both regarded as small clubs but renowned for having some of the best supporters in the country.

A perfect match, therefore, to experience for myself whether English football has truly lost its soul in the stands.

‘Pure respect between the two sets of fans was shown throughout and proved that there is hope for atmospheres around the country’

Entering the John Smith’s Stadium, you are immediately hit by the bone-chilling winds. Positioned by a hillside, the bitterly cold northerlies roll off it and into the ground, almost forcing the fans to start singing in order to warm up.

Positioned right next to the travelling Palace fans were the Huddersfield fanatics. Very similar to the infamous ‘Holmesdale Fanatics’ hard supporters.

Singing from the first minute to the last, with flags flying and drums beating, they really generated a booming atmosphere, which also sparked the renowned away fans into life as well.

The real winners

The 25,000-capacity stadium, despite being hit by a number of heavy snow showers, may well have been a 60,000 seater. The noise from the south stand, where the two sets of fans faced off in a war of words and song was, at times, deafening and you wondered how long such a spectacle could go on for.

One set of fans would start a new chant, to try and gain superiority over the opposition fans, but would instantly be countered with sharp verbal blows and volleys of chants: “Who are ya, who are ya!” It really did feel like a game from abroad, it almost didn’t matter what was happening on the pitch, the fans were not going to shut up.

The Eagles eventually ran out 2-0 winners in what could turn out to be a massive six-pointer come the end of the season. But, whilst the story of the day may have been the result and Palace’s victory, the real winners were definitely the fans.

The supporters, from both sides, went a long way in showing that the eccentric core of English supporters is still alive and as fiery as always. The game had a burning passion on such a freezing afternoon, but at no point did the support feel as though it could turn sour.

Pure respect between the two sets of fans was shown throughout and proved that there is hope for atmospheres around the country.

Huddersfield and Crystal Palace fans proved that it doesn’t matter how big a club you are or the size of your ground or your league position. If you get behind your team no matter what, become the ‘12th man’, do everything you can to back the team you love, then that’s all that matters.

Gravel Hill FC, the youngest-run Sunday League side in the country

Elephant Sport recently spoke with Ed Nott the founder of the Sunday League side Gravel Hill FC, at the age of just 19.

What’s more, the club has recently been given the title as the youngest league side in the country with an average age between 17 and 18.

The Stags play in the Croydon Municipal Sunday Football League Division 2.

We caught up with Ed to find out what it takes to run a football club at such a young age, and what he aims to achieve at grassroots level.

Click here to hear the interview on SoundCloud.

Gravel Hill FC are on Twitter @gravelhillfc

2018 Masters Preview: Who will shine at Augusta?

It’s now just a matter of weeks until the start of the 2018 Masters and the thrills of Augusta National Golf Club start all over again.

Imagine where you’ll be sitting, how you’ll be watching, what you’ll be doing. This year’s tournament is already shaping up to be one of the best in recent years, and here’s why.

Of course, everyone will have their ideal leaderboard. Maybe it’s Rory McIlroy sitting on top come the evening of 8th April, to complete a career grand slam. Or perhaps Dustin Johnson, who of course, missed out on the tournament last year due to a back injury, which paved the way for Sergio Garcia’s long-awaited first major title.

The beauty of the Masters is that coming down the back-nine on the final round, no matter what the leaderboard looks like, you can never predict who the winner will be. It’s the beauty and challenge of Augusta that every golf fan loves.

Our excitement for the first major of the year is definitely justified by what we’ve seen so far this year.

Jon Rahm’s sixth gear, Justin Thomas’ ridiculous theatrics, Bubba Watson hitting dizzying shots all over southern California, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson hitting the accelerator, Tommy Fleetwood, ‘Mr Consistent’ this year.

With all the players firing as they are, we could be in for complete and total euphoria in a couple of week’s time.

And we haven’t even mentioned Tiger Woods or Jordan Spieth yet!

Think of last year’s incredible finale when we had two European stars battle it out in one of the most thrilling final rounds the tournament has ever seen.

Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia created a complete thrill of a back-nine for the patrons with shots flying in thick and fast. None quite so spectacular as Sergio’s incredible approach to the flag at the Par 5 15th.

Both players will definitely be in contention this year, maybe not as favourites, as it’s so hard to win the Masters in consecutive years, or even finish in the top 10 consecutively.

Could this be the best Masters yet?

We have longed for the heads of generations – notably Woods and McIlroy – to clash for such a long time, this might finally be the year we see it.

Woods has defied everyone through countless injury setbacks, to now find himself in his best form for the last five years.

A second-place finish at the Valspar Championship a few weeks ago, followed by a strong finish at Bay Hill (won by McIlroy) means both players are hitting form at just the right time.

Could this be the year Tiger equals the great Jack Nicklaus’ record five green jackets? Or will Rory win his first?

One of the dirty secrets of the Masters in recent years is that we have rarely seen true heavyweight bouts for the jacket.

There has been no Mickelson-Henrik Stenson duel at Royal Troon. There has been no Johnson-Spieth set to at Chambers Bay. There has been no Mickelson-McIlroy-Rickie Fowler battle at Valhalla.

The rivalries we want at Augusta

Yes, last year was incredible (and will be historically underrated), but before that you have to do a little scavenging to find another great sword fight at Augusta National.

Spieth vs. Bubba Watson in 2014 was terrific, and Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera in 2013 was strong, but you probably have to go all the way back to 2004 to find a true icon-on-icon battle.

Mickelson shot 31 on the back nine that year to clip Ernie Els by one. The climax of that tournament is now a logo on Mickelson’s belt buckle.

This year, though, well this years has the makings of something tremendous. We get all the trappings of a normal major with two key ingredients that many Masters (especially recently) have lacked.

Elder statesmen Mickelson and Woods trying to rekindle something special. Two all-timers trying to remember what it feels like to have all the Masters you could possibly want in front of you and the possibility that you could win them all still in play.

There is nothing in all of sports as dramatic or compelling as that narrative.

Their presence at Augusta, when in good form, exponentially raises the bar on what we could see. The possibilities are endless.

What if we get a Mickelson-McIlroy redux? A repeat of the 2014 PGA Championship.

What if Dustin Johnson starts clicking on Sunday afternoon with those meteoric drives, with Thomas and Rahm keeping pace?

What if – pausing to pray to the golfing gods – Woods and Spieth go to a playoff?

What if Fowler and McIlroy are in the pairing in front of them? What if Sergio Garcia is in a position to repeat?

Tremendous storylines

The possibilities are endless and I’m not sure there’s ever been more real momentum heading into a Masters in recent memory.

It’s no secret that the form of the world’s top 20, right now, leads us to the believe that more tremendous storylines will be written this April.

But even if we get the flip side of that is that, if we don’t get something truly special and an outsider wins, like the ever-present Charley Hoffman or Marc Leishman, it’s all part of the joys of Augusta that we’ve grown to love over the years.

Maybe it will never play out like we want, either. Maybe Francesco Molinari will win the Masters, and we will all move on with our lives. But maybe, for one week Tiger and Phil and Spieth and Rory and Rahm and Fowler and Johnson and Garcia will all be feeling it.

Maybe we’ll get the greatest Masters of all-time…

Feature image of Augusta National courtesy of Dan Perry via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Rory McIlroy

Is new equipment the key to success for Rory McIlroy?

Rory McIlroy has revealed he has found a “new love for golf” following his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week. But what was the key to his success?

McIlroy won the prestigious tournament for the first after a stunning 8-under 64 on the final round to see off his nearest challenger, Bryson DeChambeau, by three shots.

It was the Northern Irishman’s first win on the PGA Tour since September 2016, his and first with his new sponsors TaylorMade.

The four-time major winner signed a jaw-dropping $100m deal with the club manufacturers back in May 2017, joining fellow pros Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Justin Rose and Jon Rahm with the brand.

It appears the big-money-move finally paid off for McIlroy, as the famously long hitter averaged 317.2 yards off the tee with his TaylorMade M3 460 driver at Bay Hill, ranking him first in the field.

The 28-year-old scrambled well too with his wedge game. His TaylorMade Milled Grind and Milled Grind Hi-Toe wedges saw him climb up to 21st for the PGA Tour season. A chip-in birdie on the 15th one of the many highlights for the 2016 Tour champion on the final round.

Strokes gained

Despite his impressive figures off the tee, however, it has been the drastic improvement on the greens that has been the key to his recent success.

Using a TaylorMade TP Soto blade with a slant neck, that he put in the bag for the first time, McIlroy—who has been no better than 125th in strokes gained from putting in each of the last three seasons and ranks 124th so far this season—posted a tournament winning 2.503 strokes gained last week.

‘This long-awaited rise in form has come at just the right time for the former world number one’

That means McIlroy picked up approximately 10 shots on the field on the greens.

The 28-year-old noted that he had spoken earlier in the week with Brad Faxon, one of the game’s best putters for a number of years, and the discussion led to the former Ryder Cup winner trying to be more “relaxed” with his stroke.

“I didn’t really hit many putts,” he said, “it was more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

Collating all of these strengths was the most frustrating issue for McIlroy last season, but last week he became the only player to win a tournament while leading the field in strokes gained putting, driving distance and scrambling (since the PGA Tour introduced strokes gained stats in 2004).

This long-awaited rise in form has come at just the right time for the former world number one, as the Tour counts down to the first major of the season, the Masters, at Augusta National in April, where McIlroy aims to complete his career grand-slam.

What Rory McIlroy had in the bag at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

 

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Driver: TaylorMade M3 460 (Mitsubishi Kuro Kage Silver 70X), 8.5 degrees

3-wood: TaylorMade M3, 15 degrees

5-wood: TaylorMade M3, 19 degrees

Irons (4): TaylorMade P750; (5-9): TaylorMade P730 Rors prototype; (PW): TaylorMade Milled Grind

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 58 degrees); TaylorMade Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees)

Putter: TaylorMade TP Black Copper Soto

Photo of Rory McIlroy courtesy of Tour Pro Golf Clubs via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Panorama Twitter feed

Navratilova wades into row over gender pay gap at the BBC

Nine-time Wimbledon champion, Martina Navratilova, has accused the BBC of valuing male pundits more highly than females, after discovering that colleague John McEnroe is paid at least 10 times more than her.

Navratilova expressed her concerns on the BBC show Panorama: “It was a shock because John McEnroe makes at least £150,000… I get about £15,000 for Wimbledon and unless John McEnroe’s doing a whole bunch of stuff outside of Wimbledon, he’s getting at least 10 times as much money.

“We were not told the truth, that’s for sure”, she continued, after the 61-year-old was assured by the BBC that men and women were being paid equally.

“It’s still the good old boys’ network … The bottom line is that male voices are valued more than women’s voices.”

Pay row reignited

The emergence of this information has led to a reignited the BBC gender pay gap row, last summer, when the corporation published a list of its top-earning, on-air stars, which revealed that just a third were women and the top seven were men.

The list further revealed the highest paid male at the BBC to be radio host Chris Evans, who earned more than £2m, while the top woman on the list was Claudia Winkleman, whose salary stood between the region of £450,000 and £500,000.

This led to more than 40 of its highest-profile female presenters, including Clare Balding, Fiona Bruce and Emily Maitlis, to publicly call for change through a letter to the director general, Tony Hall.

Since the reveal, BBC Sport have defended the discrepancy, saying McEnroe’s role was of “a different scale, scope and time commitment”, to Navratilova, adding: “They are simply not comparable.”

‘Highly valued’

Whilst the former world No.1 added that she is currently working “part time” for the corporation, her concerns remain for the other women at the BBC in more permanent roles where the problem may be even bigger.

A spokeswoman added: “Along with Sue Barker, John is regarded as the face of our Wimbledon coverage. He is a defining voice within the BBC’s coverage.

“He is widely considered to be the best expert/commentator in the sport, highly valued by our audiences and his contract means he cannot work for another UK broadcaster without our permission. His pay reflects all of this – gender isn’t a factor.”

Other broadcasters who have been vocal over the gender pay gap at the corporation, which has been hitting headlines for some time, are former China editor Carrie Gracie and ex-news presenter Maxine Mawhinney.